Today, thanks to increasing smartphone penetration, along with growing internet access, Africans no longer need to rely on current-generation consoles like the PlayStation 5, the Xbox Series X/S, or the Nintendo Switch to play their favourite titles…
By Michael Akuchie
In my childhood (and to date), game consoles were priced prohibitively. This trend made purchasing one incredibly difficult for the average gamer. It was possible to play on a family’s computer, but playing with keyboards is not nearly as enjoyable as the famous PlayStation controller. PlayStation was the rave of my childhood. The Xbox 360 was also around too, but it was an uncommon sight.
Having no family computer or an Xbox 360 as a child, I learned to comfort myself with Snake Xenzia, a basic game that came with most entry-level Nokia devices. Fortunately, I had a few primary school friends who owned the latest handheld consoles. Whether it was the Nintendo Game Boy Color or its successor, the Game Boy Advance, I enjoyed the thrill of watching them play and, sometimes, getting a turn too. And I was not the only one in this regard, any child with a GameBoy console often attracted the attention of his classmates and peers.
In 2008, my friends next door got a PlayStation One, a video game console. Unlike handheld consoles like the Game Boy, PlayStation consoles required a TV, and seeing Konami’s best-selling Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) come alive on their miniature screen became a highlight of my childhood. Even though the graphics can no longer compare to today’s standards, it was bliss then. Many retro gamers would agree, too. However, it was not until the PlayStation Two became a mainstream product in my neighbourhood that I gained a tiny, but crucial, understanding of “community”. It became common for individuals to open shops furnished with two to four television sets and PlayStation Two consoles of an equivalent number. For 20 Naira, I could challenge my elder brother in an exhibition match. I always lost, but that never mattered. Being able to wield the PlayStation controller, despite not owning the console, gave me a distinct kind of joy.
My experience is not alien to many Africans who were born in the late 90s up to the early 2000s. Although handheld and home video game consoles were a luxury to most of us, it did not stop the hype surrounding their growing popularity.
Today, thanks to increasing smartphone penetration, along with growing internet access, Africans no longer need to rely on current-generation consoles like the PlayStation 5, the Xbox Series X/S, or the Nintendo Switch to play their favourite titles. A smartphone with a decent internet connection can play First-Person shooter titles like Call of Duty: Mobile, Players Unknown Battleground (PUBG), or even Free Fire. Although phones with less RAM and entry-level processors struggle to play the above titles well, that reality has not dampened their owners’ interest in the immersive world of first-person shooter titles. Console gaming is still a thing today, but mobile gaming offers people a less expensive outlet to enjoy a diverse selection of games.
What’s more, gamers today not only play as a pastime, but also as a competitive sport. From professional eSports to mobile gaming tournaments organised by game publishing companies, there is more to being a gamer today than merely playing to kill boredom. A vibrant community for young gamers is blooming, and stakeholders need to build on this to foster the industry’s development.
If the statistics did not exist, it would be difficult to convince people in, say, their late forties to sixties, that gaming has a lot of potential. Thankfully, data exists to support the claim that gaming is a fast-growing space in Africa. A Mordor Intelligence report found that the continent’s gaming market is worth USD 1.92 billion in 2023. It further stated that the market value will increase to USD 3.33 billion in 2024. It is also worth mentioning that while the gaming industry is divided into different units like console, PC, and mobile, Africa has witnessed a surge of interest particularly in the mobile gaming segment. “The rise of mobile gaming in Africa is aided by the rising internet connectivity, increasing adoption of smartphones, and the advent of high bandwidth network connectivity, such as 5G, which have further increased the demand of the gaming market across the region”, the study stated. As mentioned, smartphones have become the major way to play titles like CODM and PUBG. This is the case even when the personal computer (PC) versions are available. Like handheld consoles, mobile gaming unlocks a new level of convenience.
But beyond playing games developed by foreigners, Africa is also birthing a nascent but forward-thinking era of game studios. Consider Mekan Games, a Nairobi-based studio founded by Evans Kiragu, which developed the chart-topping hypercasual title, Mr President. A game that rose to the top of the list in the US market in 2022 – a gigantic feat.
Similarly, Qene Games, an Ethiopian studio, has also risen to admiration for the mobile board game Gebeta, which claimed the Best App of the Year award at the 2020 AppsAfrica Awards ceremony. The above exploits do not account for all of the many brilliant minds that exist on the continent. They serve as a reminder of what is possible in the industry. As the gaming market continues to expand, demand for indigenous creators will increase. This means more jobs and greater income. For gamers, this translates into an ever-growing library of new titles to play for recreational or competitive purposes.
However, despite these recorded successes, there are still challenges with access to gaming studios. There may be more internet penetration and better access to it, but there is still the common issue of unannounced service downtimes. For creators, another major challenge is the lack of a robust regulatory blueprint that can protect game developers and other creators from intellectual property theft. It is also worth mentioning that without grants or any type of external support, game developers often have to bootstrap their efforts. This is often difficult to sustain, and it is common to see promising projects fail due to limited financial support.
But all hope is not lost. In sports, clubs operate academies where children and teenagers hone their skills to someday join the team. This practice allows clubs to discover and groom potential stars while they are relatively young. Gaming, too, can be a fertile ground for such grassroot movements. Carry1st, a South African-based gaming publisher, for example, has played a significant role in the growth of mobile gaming on the continent. In 2022, Kiragu participated in an innovation hub organised by Carry1st in South Africa. It was at that five-month hub that Kiragu and the team got the idea for Mr President.
In February this year, Carry1st also acquired Gebeta for an undisclosed amount, the board game created by Dawit Abraham’s Qene Games. Beyond providing recipients with an opportunity to work on potential best-sellers and exit strategies for game titles, the publisher is building a community of gamers aptly named “Tribe”. Aside from hosting mobile gaming tournaments across multiple titles, Tribe also serves as a platform where members can discuss their everyday encounters with gaming and how it affects their lives. These kinds of environments also serve as an avenue for members to learn about the business of gaming. After all, gamers can pursue a career in game development. After spending time with the PlayStation 2, Kiragu became fascinated by the inner workings of games and began his foray into the field.
African governments and foreign investors can take a page out of Carry1st’s playbook, and help set up gaming hubs in various communities, particularly the underserved ones. Africa has a large youth population. According to the United Nations, 70% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s population is below 30 years. We can narrow down the facts; Tanzania’s median age stands at 17 years, Senegal’s at 18 years, and Nigeria’s sits at 17.2 years. These numbers support the claim that Africa has a youthful population. Given that gaming, particularly the online-based kind is popular among young people, it makes sense to channel attention to that demographic. Aside from gaming hubs, stakeholders can organise hackathons for developers to showcase their creations to a wide audience. Hackathons are great places to network with other brilliant minds and collaborate on future projects.
But beyond establishing hubs, hackathons, and even creating jobs for developers, industry stakeholders must also tackle underlying issues like limited internet access and the lack of a unified system for performing in-game transactions. Only then can the industry thrive and catapult Africa into a new tier of economic development.
Michael Akuchie is a tech journalist with four years of experience covering cybersecurity, AI, automotive trends, and startups. He reads human-angle stories in his spare time. He’s on X (fka Twitter) as @Michael_Akuchie & michael_akuchie on Instagram.